Governor Rex Hunt was informed by the British Government of a possible Argentine invasion on 1 April 1982. At 3:30 pm that day he received a telegram from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stating:
We have apparently reliable evidence that an Argentine task force could be assembling off Stanley at dawn tomorrow. You will wish to make your dispositions accordingly.
The Governor summoned the two senior Royal Marines officers of Naval Party 8901 to Government House in Stanley to discuss the options for defending the Falklands. He said during the meeting: "Sounds like the buggers mean it".
Major Mike Norman was given overall command of the Marines due to his seniority, while Major Gary Noott became the military advisor to Governor Hunt. The total strength was 68 Marines and 11 sailors, which was greater than would normally have been available because the garrison was in the process of changing over – both the replacements and the troops preparing to leave were in the Falklands at the time of the invasion.
This was decreased to 57 when 22 Royal Marines embarked aboard the Antarctic patrol ship HMS Endurance to observe Argentine soldiers based at South Georgia. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, states that a total of 85 marines were present at Stanley.
Their numbers were reinforced by at least 25 Falkland Islands Defence Force (FIDF) members. Graham Bound, an islander who lived through the Argentine occupation, reports in his book Falkland Islanders At War that the higher figure of approximately 40 (both serving and past) members of the FIDF reported for duty at their drill hall. Their commanding officer, Major Phil Summers, tasked the volunteer militiamen with guarding such key points as the telephone exchange, the radio station and the power station. Skipper Jack Sollis, on board the civilian coastal ship Forrest, operated his boat as an improvised radar screen station off Stanley. Two other civilians, former Royal Marine Jim Alister and a Canadian citizen, Bill Curtiss, also offered their services to the governor.
The Argentine amphibious operation began in the late evening of Thursday 1 April, when the destroyer ARA Santisima Trinidad disembarked special naval forces south of Stanley. The bulk of the Argentine force was to land some hours later from the amphibious warfare ship ARA Cabo San Antonio near the airport, on a beach previously marked by frogmen from the submarine ARA Santa Fe.
The operation had been called Azul (Blue) during the planning stage, but it was finally renamed Rosario (Rosary).
The very first move of Operation Rosario was the reconnaissance of Port William by the submarine ARA Santa Fe and the landing of 14 members of the tactical divers group near Cape Pembroke, including the commander of this elite unit, Captain Cufré. The reconnaissance mission began as early as 31 March, when the trawler Forrest was spotted through the periscope at 10:00 PM off Port Stanley. The next day, Santa Fe learned that the authorities in Stanley were aware of the Argentine plans, so a change was necessary. Instead of landing right on Pembroke, the commandos would initially take a beach near Menguera Point, south of Kidney Island.
They left Santa Fe at 1:40 PM. From the beach, the special troops headed towards Pembroke peninsula in Zodiac boats. They reached Yorke Bay at 4:30 AM of 2 April. After planting beacons for the main landing, they took over the airstrip and the lighthouse without resistance. Argentine sources claim that they captured a few prisoners. This team was later given the task of gathering and taking in custody the Royal Marines after the British surrender.
On the night of 1/2 April 1982, Santísima Trinidad halted 500 metres off Mullet Creek and lowered 21 Gemini assault craft into the water. They contained 84 special forces troopers of Lieutenant-Commander Guillermo Sánchez-Sabarots' 1st Amphibious Commandos Group and a small party under Lieutenant-Commander Pedro Giachino, who was normally second-in-command of the 1st Marine Infantry Battalion, that was to capture Government House. The Argentine Rear Admiral Jorge Allara, through a message radioed from Santisima Trinidad, had requested to Rex Hunt a peaceful surrender, but the proposal was rejected.
Giachino's party had the shortest distance to go: two and a half miles due north. Moody Brook Barracks, the destination of the main party, was six miles away, over rough terrain. Lieutenant-Commander Sánchez-Sabarots, in the book The Argentine Fight for the Falklands, describes the main party's progress in the dark:
It was a nice night, with a moon, but the cloud covered the moon for most of the time. It was very hard going with our heavy loads; it was hot work. We eventually became split up into three groups. We only had one night sight; the lead man, Lieutenant Arias had it. One of the groups became separated when a vehicle came along the track we had to cross. We thought it was a military patrol. Another group lost contact, and the third separation was caused by someone going too fast. This caused my second in command, Lieutenant Bardi, to fall. He suffered a hairline fracture of the ankle and had to be left behind with a man to help him. We were at Moody Brook by 5.30 a.m., just on the limits of the time planned, but with no time for the one hour's reconnaissance for which we had hoped.
The main party of Argentine Marines assumed that the Moody Brook Barracks contained sleeping Royal Marines. The barracks were quiet, although a light was on in the office of the Royal Marine commander. No sentries were observed, and it was a quiet night, apart from the occasional animal call. Lieutenant-Commander Sánchez-Sabarots could hear nothing of any action at Government House, nor from the distant landing beaches; nevertheless, he ordered the assault to begin. Lieutenant-Commander Sánchez-Sabarots continues his account:
It was still completely dark. We were going to use tear-gas to force the British out of the buildings and capture them. Our orders were not to cause casualties if possible. That was the most difficult mission of my career. All our training as commandos was to fight aggressively and inflict maximum casualties on the enemy. We surrounded the barracks with machine-gun teams, leaving only one escape route along the peninsula north of Stanley Harbour. Anyone who did get away would not able to reach the town and reinforce the British there. Then we threw the gas grenades into each building. There was no reaction; the barracks were empty.
The noise of the grenades alerted Major Norman to the presence of Argentines on the island, and he thus drove back to Government House. Realising that the attack was coming from Moody Brook, he ordered all troop sections to converge on the house to enable the defence to be centralised.
Although there were no Royal Marine witnesses to the assault, British descriptions of the state of Moody Brook barracks afterwards contradict the Argentine version of events. After the action, some of the Royal Marines were allowed to return to barracks to collect personal items. Major Norman describes walls of the barracks as riddled with machine gun fire and bearing the marks of white phosphorus grenades—"a classic houseclearing operation". The Argentines maintain that the barracks were destroyed in an air attack on 12 June that killed three conscripts and wounded Major José Rodolfo Banetta.
There was a more pressing action on the eastern edge of Stanley. Twenty US-built LVTP-7A1 Argentine tracked amphibious armoured personnel carriers from Lieutenant-Commander Guillermo Cazzaniga's 1st Amphibious Vehicles Battalion, carrying D and E Companies of the 2nd Marine Infantry Battalion (BIM-2) from Puerto Belgrano, had been landed from the tank landing ship ARA Cabo San Antonio at Yorke Bay, and were being watched by a section of Royal Marines under the command of Lieutenant Bill Trollope.
The armoured column trundled along the Airport Road into Stanley, with three Amtracs (Numbers 05, 07 and 19) in the vanguard, and, near the Ionospheric Research Station, at exactly 7:15 am, was engaged by a section of Royal Marines with anti-tank rockets and machine guns. This is from Lieutenant-Commander Hugo Santillán's official post-battle report:
We were on the last stretch of the road into Stanley. A machine-gun fired from one of the three white houses about 500 metres away and hit the right-hand Amtrac. The fire was very accurate. Then there were some explosions from a rocket launcher, but they were inaccurate, falling a long way from us. We followed our standard operating procedure and took evasive action. The Amtrac on the right returned fire and took cover in a little depression. Once he was out of danger, I told all three vehicles to disembark their men. I ordered the crew with the recoilless rifle to fire one round of hollow charge at the ridge of the roof of the house where the machine-gun was, to cause a bang but not an explosion. We were still following our orders not to inflict casualties. The first round was about a hundred metres short, but the second hit the roof. The British troops then threw a purple smoke grenade; I thought it was their signal to withdraw. They had stopped firing, so Commander Weinstabl started the movement of the two companies around the position. Some riflemen in one of the houses started firing then; that was quite uncomfortable. I couldn't pinpoint their location, but one of my other Amtracs could and asked permission to open up with a mortar which he had. I authorized this, but only with three rounds and only at the roofs of the houses. Two rounds fell short, but the third hit right in the centre of the roof; that was incredible. The British ceased firing then.
The Amtrac on the right manoeuvred itself off the road into a little depression and as it did so, disembarked the Marines inside out of view. This encouraged the Royal Marines to think that Marine Mark Gibbs had scored a direct hit on the passenger compartment of the APC.
Lieutenant Bill Trollope, with No. 2 Section, describes the action:
Six Armoured Personnel Carriers began advancing at speed down the Airport Road. The first APC was engaged at a range of about 200 to 250 metres. The first three missiles, two 84 mm and one 66 mm, missed. Subsequently one 66 mm fired by Marine Gibbs, hit the passenger compartment and one 84 mm Marines [George] Brown and [Danny] Betts hit the front. Both rounds exploded and no fire was received from that vehicle. The remaining five APCs which were about 600 to 700 metres away deployed their troops and opened fire. We engaged them with GPMG, SLR and sniper rifle [Sergeant Shepherd] for about a minute before we threw a white phosphorus smoke grenade and leap-frogged back to the cover of gardens. Incoming fire at that stage was fairly heavy, but mostly inaccurate.
Lieutenant Trollope and his men withdrew along Davis Street, running behind the houses with Argentine Marines in hot pursuit, and went to ground firing up the road when it became obvious they could not reach Government House.
Corporal Lou Armour, commanding '1 Section', was positioned at Hookers Point when the invasion began. Shortly after the attack on Moody Brook, he was ordered to withdraw to Govt House, meeting up with Corporal David Carr's section along the way.
The marines, now numbering sixteen, decided to try and work their way around to the back of the ridge where the Argentinians were positioned, and then charge down to Government House, hopefully taking the enemy by surprise. But as they moved through the edges of the town they came under fire at every street corner and it was eventually so heavy they had to abandon their plan.
As both sections headed off to find Lt Trollope's men, Cpl Armour decided to have one more try at getting into Government House. Using fire and maneuver to cross a football pitch they then crawled along the hedgerow leading to the gardens where, after being fired upon by both attackers and defenders, they made it to safety via the kitchen door. Cpl Armour explains:
One Section pepper-potted down the road towards the wood where we knew Government House to be. Movement was slow as we had to crawl and monkey run until we reached the hospital. It was now broad daylight. From there the section fired and manoeuvred behind the nurses' home and across the football pitch until we reached a hedgegrow. I informed Marine Parker to call out, 'Royal Marines!' as we approached the house. We were eventually heard by Corporal Pares, who told us where the enemy were. The section, under cover from Corporal Pares, then dashed into the house where we were deployed upstairs by Major Noott.
Lying on a small hillock south of Government House, Lieutenant-Commander Pedro Giachino faced the difficulty of capturing this important objective with no radio and with a force of only 16 men. He split his force into small groups, placing one on either side of the house and one at the rear. Unknown to them, the governor's residence was the main concentration point of the Royal Marines, who outnumbered the commandos by over two to one.
The first attack against this building came at 6.30 a.m., barely an hour before the Yorke Bay amphibious landing, when one of Giachino's platoons, led by Lieutenant Gustavo Lugo, started to exchange fire with the British troops inside the house. At the same time, Giachino himself, with four of his subordinates, entered the servants' annexe, believing it to be the rear entrance to the residence. Three Royal Marines, Corporals Mick Sellen and Fleet and Marine Harry Dorey, who were placed to cover the annexe, beat off the first attack. Giachino was hit instantly as he burst through the door, while Lieutenant Diego Garcia Quiroga was shot in the arm. The remaining three retreated to the maid's quarters.
Giachino was not dead, but very badly wounded. An Argentine paramedic, Corporal Ernesto Urbina, attempted to get to Giachino but was wounded by a grenade. Giachino, seeing what had happened, pulled the pin from a hand grenade and threatened to use it. The Royal Marines then attempted to persuade the officer to get rid of the grenade so that they could give him medical treatment, but he refused, preventing them from reaching his position. After the surrender of the British forces at Government House, some three hours later, Giachino was taken to Stanley Hospital but died from loss of blood.
At the governor's office, Major Norman received a radio report from Corporal York's section, which was positioned at Camber peninsula, observing any possible Argentine ship entering Stanley Harbour. The corporal proceeded to report on three potential targets in sight and which should he engage first. What are the targets? the major enquired. Target number one is an aircraft carrier, target number two is a cruiser, at which point the line went dead.
Corporal York decided to withdraw his section and proceeded to booby trap their Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, before paddling their Gemini assault boat north across Port William. As he did so, York claimed an Argentine destroyer began pursuing them (the corvette ARA Granville according to Argentine sources). His initiative led to the Gemini reaching an anchored Polish fishing vessel, hiding the small assault boat under her shadow. They patiently waited for a chance, before moving to the shore and landing on a small beach.
Back at Government House, the Argentine commandos' pressure continued unabated. There is some evidence that their use of stun grenades and their continuous shift of firing positions during the battle led the Royal Marines inside to believe they were facing a company of marines and were hopelessly outnumbered. Actually, after the failure of Giachino's platoon to break into the residence, the British were surrounded by only a dozen elite troops. These men were under Lieutenant Lugo, Giachino's second-in-command. The Land Rovers used by the Royal Marines were disabled by automatic gunfire from the commandos. Governor Hunt called Patrick Watts (at the radio station, Radio Stanley), by telephone and said he believed the assaulting force to be the equivalent of a reinforced company:
We're staying put here, but we are pinned down. We can't move.(...) They must have 200 around us now. They've been throwing rifle grenades at us; I think there may be mortars, I don't know. They came along very quickly and very close, and then they retreated. Maybe they are waiting until the APCs [Amtracs] come along and they think they'll lose less casualties that way.
Corporal Geordie Gill along with Corporal Terry Pares, both snipers, also claimed to have shot several Argentines through the chest and head as they attempted to scatter along the hillside overlooking Government House:
We dropped a number of Argentinians as they approached and I had a couple in my sights and made sure they were taken out of the game. It was initially estimated that we had killed five and injured seventeen, but we only counted the bodies that we saw drop in front of us.
Major Norman's estimate is that corporals Pares and Gills killed or wounded some five Argentine special forces:
Corporals Pares and Gill, were doing an excellent job. Gill would look through his sniper scope and tell Pares where the enemy were and Pares would fire ten rounds rapid, and as soon as that got them on the move, Gill would take them out with the sniper rifle. They took out four or five this way and all the time they were giving the rest of us a running commentary.
Eventually, Hunt decided to enter talks with Argentine commanders around 8 o'clock. The liaison was Vice-Commodore Hector Gilobert, the head in the islands of LADE, the Argentine government's airline company. Gilobert and a governor's deputy went to the Argentine headquarters displaying a white flag. A de facto ceasefire was put in place at that time which was occasionally breached by small arms fire.
The governor's envoys found the Argentine commanding post at Stanley's town hall. The Argentine chief accepted the British offer of a face to face meeting with Hunt at his battered office.
While the negotiations were still going on, another incident occurred inside the residence. Three Argentine tactical divers who survived the first skirmish along the compound inadvertently alerted Major Noott to their presence, while they had been preparing to leave their hiding place. The Major fired his Sterling submachine gun into the ceiling of the maid's room. According to British reports, the stunned commandos tumbled down the stairs, laying their weapons on the ground. They became the first Argentine prisoners of war of the Falklands War, although by then Governor Hunt had already been in contact with Argentine officials negotiating the terms of surrender.
The version of the commander of the tactical frogmen, Lieutenant Commander Alfredo Raúl Cufré, who was then at Stanley airport, is that the three divers kept their fighting position right to the end of the hostilities.
Admiral Carlos Büsser, commander in chief of the operation, states that a ceasefire was already in place when the three commandos, after realising that the battle was coming to a close and that any loss of life at the time would be futile, laid down their arms to the marines in order to assist the wounded. Just a few minutes after this event, Government House capitulated.
Meanwhile, the Royal Marines in the house saw the approaching Amtracs that had been engaged earlier by Lieutenant Trollope and his section. The vehicles pushed on toward Moody Brook to link up with Sánchez-Sabarots forces. His amphibious commandos were plodding slowly along the road to reinforce their colleagues besieging Government House after taking some prisoners near the racecourse. Major Norman had earlier advised Governor Hunt that the Royal Marines and the governor could break out to the countryside and set up a 'seat of government' elsewhere, but when he finally met the commander-in-chief of the Argentine operations, Admiral Büsser, he agreed to surrender his troops to the now overwhelming Argentine forces at 9:30 am. Hunt would later state in London that the defenders fired 6,000 rounds in the fighting at Government House and elsewhere.
After the surrender, the Royal Marines and the members of the FIDF were then herded onto the playing fields. Pictures and film were taken of the British prisoners arranged face-down on the ground. This was probably an attempt to demonstrate the lack of British casualties, but it backfired: The images galvanised the British public when they were broadcast on television and increased public opposition to the invasion. Corporal Armour's section had fought on the second floor at Government House and was taken prisoner:
There were three casualties lying in the garden of Government House. You think: What sort of mood are they going to be in when their oppos are shot up? When we were actually lying down I felt a bit humiliated but I also felt apprehensive about what was going to happen next. One of the Argentine officers came along and actually struck one of the guards and told us to stand up. We stood up and he shook my hand and a few other guys' hands and said that we shouldn't lie down, that we should be proud of what we'd done."
Soon afterward, the Royal Marines were moved to a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, which would take them to Comodoro Rivadavia, where they were to be picked up by another airliner to Uruguay and on to the United Kingdom. Members of the FIDF were not taken to Argentina along with members of NP 8901; instead they were disarmed and returned to their homes. As the Marines were being taken to Montevideo, one of them said to an Argentine guard "don't make yourself too comfy here mate, we'll be back".
Corporal York's section remained at large. On 4 April, they reached a secluded shepherd's hut owned by a Mrs Watson. York had no radio, and due to worries about possible civilian deaths, chose to surrender to Argentine forces. They gave their position to the Argentine Army using a local islander's radio, and York subsequently ordered his men to destroy and then bury their weapons.
In Buenos Aires, huge flag-waving crowds flooded the Plaza de Mayo upon hearing the news. Argentina's losses in the operation were one dead and three wounded. In London, where the bad news was fully known from Argentine sources, the government was in a state of shock. The crisis prompted the resignation of the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington.
The next day, Argentine forces captured the island chain of South Georgia, 1350 km to the east of the Falklands. In that action, the Argentines suffered one sailor from the corvette ARA Guerrico and two marines killed (Navy Corporal Patricio Guanca and marine conscripts Mario Almonacid and Jorge Aguila). One British Royal Marine was wounded in an exchange of fire with the Argentine troops. The Marines eventually surrendered when this position was bracketed by the Guerrico's main 100mm gun.
At 16:30 local time on 2 April 1982, the last telex conversation between the operator in the Falklands and an operative in London, announced that the islands were under Argentine control.
LON (London): HELLO THERE WHAT ARE ALL THESE RUMOURS WE HEAR THIS IS LON
FK (Falklands): WE HAVE LOTS OF NEW FRIENDS
LON: WHAT ABOUT INVASION RUMOURS
FK: THOSE ARE THE FRIENDS I WAS MEANING
LON: THEY HAVE LANDED
LON: ARE YOU OPEN FOR TRAFFIC IE NORMAL TELEX SERVICE
FK: NO ORDERS ON THAT YET ONE MUST OBEY ORDERS
LON: WHOSE ORDERS
FK: THE NEW GOVERNORS
LON: ARE THE ARGENTINIANS IN CONTROL
FK: YES YOU CAN'T ARGUE WITH THOUSANDS OF TROOPS PLUS ENORMOUS NAVY SUPPORT WHEN YOU ARE ONLY 1800 STRONG. STAND BY.
The timeline of the operation was as follows:
On 3 April 1982, the United Nations Security Council comprising the five permanent members and the 10 elected members (Poland, Spain, Ireland, Panama, Guyana, Japan, Jordan, Uganda, Zaire, and Togo) passed the Resolution 502 demanding an immediate withdrawal of all Argentine forces from the islands and called on the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to seek a diplomatic solution to the situation and refrain from further military action. Panama voted against this resolution, with China, Poland, Spain and the Soviet Union abstaining. All 10 remaining members voted for the resolution.